A Monster Calls (Page 29)

You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.

There was a long silence as Conor re-caught his breath.

“So what do I do?” he finally asked.

You do what you did just now, the monster said. You speak the truth.

“That’s it?”

You think it is easy? The monster raised two enormous eyebrows. You were willing to die rather than speak it.

Conor looked down at his hands, finally unclenching them. “Because what I thought was so wrong.”

It was not wrong, the monster said, It was only a thought, one of a million. It was not an action.

Conor let out a long, long breath, still thick.

But he wasn’t choking. The nightmare wasn’t filling him up, squeezing his chest, dragging him down.

In fact, he didn’t feel the nightmare there at all.

“I’m so tired,” Conor said, putting his head in his hands. “I’m so tired of all this.”

Then sleep, said the monster. There is time.

“Is there?” Conor mumbled, suddenly unable to keep his eyes open.

The monster changed the shape of its hands even further, making the nest of leaves Conor was lying on even more comfortable.

“I need to see my mum,” he protested.

You will, the monster said. I promise.

Conor opened his eyes. “Will you be there?”

Yes, the monster said. It will be the final steps of my walking.

Conor felt himself drifting off, the tide of sleep pulling against him so hard he couldn’t resist it.

But before he went, he could feel one last question bubbling up.

“Why do you always come at 12.07?” he asked.

He was asleep before the monster could answer.

SOMETHING IN COMMON

“Oh, thank God!”

The words filtered in before Conor was even properly awake.

“Conor!” he heard, and then stronger. “Conor!”

His grandma’s voice.

He opened his eyes, sitting up slowly. Night had fallen. How long had he been asleep? He looked around. He was still on the hill behind his house, nestled in the roots of the yew tree towering over him. He looked up. It was just a tree.

But he could swear that it also wasn’t.

“CONOR!”

His grandma was running from the direction of the church, and he could see her car parked on the road beyond, its lights on, its engine running. He stood as she ran to him, her face filled with annoyance and relief and something he recognized with a sinking stomach.

“Oh, thank God, thank GOD!” she shouted as she reached him.

And then she did a surprising thing.

She grabbed him in a hug so hard they both nearly fell over. Only Conor catching them on the tree trunk stopped them. Then she let him go and really started shouting.

“Where have you BEEN?!” she practically screamed. “I’ve been searching for HOURS! I’ve been FRANTIC, Conor! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”

“There was something I needed to do,” Conor said, but she was already pulling on his arm.

“No time,” she said. “We have to go! We have to go now!”

She let go of him and actually sprinted back to her car, which was such a troubling thing to see, Conor ran after her almost automatically, jumping in the passenger side and not even getting the door closed before she drove off with a screech of tyres.

He didn’t dare ask why they were hurrying.

“Conor,” his grandma said as the car raced down the road at alarming speed. It was only when he looked at her that he saw how much she was crying. Shaking, too. “Conor, you just can’t…” She shook some more, then he saw her grip the steering wheel even harder.

“Grandma–” he started to say.

“Don’t,” she said. “Just don’t.”

They drove in silence for a while, sailing through give way signs with barely a look. Conor re-checked his seatbelt.

“Grandma?” Conor asked, bracing himself as they flew over a bump.

She kept speeding on.

“I’m sorry,” he said, quietly.

She laughed at this, a sad, thick laugh. She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?”

“Of course it doesn’t,” she said, and she started to cry again. But she wasn’t the kind of grandma who was going to let crying get in the way of her talking. “You know, Conor?” she said. “You and me? Not the most natural fit, are we?”

“No,” Conor said. “I guess not.”

“I guess not either.” She tore around a corner so fast, Conor had to grab onto the door handle to stay upright.

“But we’re going to have to learn, you know,” she said.

Conor swallowed. “I know.”

His grandma made a little sobbing noise. “You do know, don’t you?” she said. “Of course you do.”

She coughed to clear her throat as she quickly looked both ways at an approaching cross-roads before driving right through the red light. Conor wondered how late it was. There was hardly any traffic around.

“But you know what, grandson?” his grandma said. “We have something in common.”

“We do?” Conor asked, as the hospital lurched into view down the road.

“Oh, yes,” his grandma said, pressing even harder on the accelerator, and he saw that her tears were still coming.

“What’s that?” he asked.

She pulled into the first empty spot she saw on the road near the hospital, running her car up onto the kerb with a thudding stop.

“Your mum,” she said, looking at him full on. “That’s what we have in common.”

Conor didn’t say anything.

But he knew what she meant. His mum was her daughter. And she was the most important person either of them knew. That was a lot to have in common.

It was certainly a place to start.

His grandma turned off the engine and opened her door. “We have to hurry,” she said.

THE TRUTH

His grandma burst into his mum’s hospital room ahead of him with a terrible question on her face. But there was a nurse inside who answered immediately. “It’s okay,” she said. “You’re in time.”

His grandma put her hands to her mouth and let out a cry of relief.

“I see you found him,” the nurse said, looking at Conor.

“Yes,” was all his grandma said.

Both she and Conor were looking at his mum. The room was mostly dark, just a light on over her bed where she lay. Her eyes were closed, and her breathing sounded like there was a weight on her chest. The nurse left them with her, and his grandma sat down in the chair on the other side of his mum’s bed, leaning forward to pick up one of his mum’s hands. She held it in her own, kissing it and rocking back and forth.